Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Avocado Salmon Salad Rolls

I know people who refuse to eat raw foods when they travel.  They believe it's safer to eat food that has been sitting for hours at a hotel buffet than to eat a freshly prepared dish at a restaurant packed with locals.  Anyone who travels to Vietnam who refrains from eating fresh vegetables deprives himself of some truly great food.

I first traveled to Vietnam in 1989.  I had just finished working on Pulau Galang, a refugee camp in Indonesia, and was keen to see what Vietnam was like.  At that time one had to travel with a government appointed guide and could only eat at places that accepted hard currency. While I had some good food, nothing was particularly memorable.  A few years later, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country opened up.  In 1994, my wife and I moved to Ho Chi Minh City for a year.  Newly married, we lived in a room we rented from a Vietnamese family in their four-story flat. 

While we ate breakfast (fresh fruit and coffee) and lunch at the house, we often ate out for dinner.  One of my favorite lunches was salad rolls made with thit quay (roast pork), banh hoi, and an assortment of fresh lettuce and herbs from the market. Here in California, I've modified the salad roll to include some local ingredients--coho salmon and avocado. These are perfect for a light meal, or they may be cut and served as appetizers.

Gỏi Cuốn với Salmon Bơ --Vietnamese Salad Rolls with Salmon and Avocado

4 ounces rice vermicelli, boiled about 3 minutes, rinsed under cold water, drained
6-ounce salmon fillet, grilled
green mango, peeled, finely julienned
carrot, peeled, finely julienned
mint, rau ram (daun laksa or Vietnamese cilantro), cilantro
red leaf or butter lettuce
avocado, halved and thinly sliced
rice paper rounds, dampened to make pliable

a sauce of 2 TBS Shark Brand Sriracha sauce mixed with 3 TBS hoisin and 1 TBS kecap manis

Lay a round of rice paper on a board or plate.  Place a lettuce leaf on top of the rice paper.  Put on some rice noodles, carrot, and mango.  Top with salmon, herbs, and some sauce.  Place two slices of avocado and some cilantro leaves near the top of the round.  Roll and seal.

If you plan on cutting them, wait until just before serving or the rice paper may not remain intact.  Wrap in plastic to keep from drying out.  Eat within a few hours of making. Do not refrigerate or the rice paper becomes  funky.

The "sauce" I used is hardly traditional, but it was quick, had a bit of a kick, and did not overpower the salmon and avocado.  Usually the rolls are dipped into a sauce, but I liked these with just a little sauce inside so that the avocado and salmon still came through.

To see some more traditional goi cuon,  you might want to try Wandering Chopsticks version, or
Ravenous Couple's Nem Nuong Cuon.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Potato Rendang

One of my favorite Indonesian dishes is beef rendang.  I've posted previously about the first time I had rendang in Indonesia, and what a revelatory experience that was.   There is truly something magical about homemade rendang in Indonesia.  Although I think I dish up a very decent rendang myself, it's not the same as rendang made with fresh coconut milk.  Even when using canned coconut milk, rendang is not a fast food; it takes time.  Like risotto, it cannot be rushed.  But for those willing to put in the time, the payoff is worth it.

In Indonesia I had beef rendang on a fairly regular basis, and had had chicken rendang a few times.  As I mentioned before, the first time I had rendang it had liver as well as beef.  However, that first plate of rendang was so delicious I didn't mind the liver (terribly). While I had rendang somewhat regularly, in all my time in Indonesia I never had potato rendang.  I thought the recipe odd when I came across it in James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor.  Why make rendang without some meat?  It seemed wrong.

My wife also thought it seemed wrong.  "Put some shrimp in it.  Put some chicken in it. Where is this recipe from?  I've never heard of such a thing!"  My wife is from Kediri, also known as Kota Tahu--Tofu City.  She and our niece tried to persuade me to add some animal protein to the dish.

I held out against adding meat.  As much as I savor the cooked flesh of sentient beings, there are times I think it doesn't add to a dish.  There are times when less is more.

Potato rendang is a dish that requires no meat.  There is a richness to it, an expansiveness, that transports it beyond a simple potato curry.  It's remarkable how the rendang base, which is very close to the base used in beef rendang, infuses the potatoes with an other worldly piquancy. 

I served these potatoes with stir fried pea shoots and rice.  Although it might seem odd to most westerners to serve rice with potatoes, the rice helps tame some of the chili heat of the dish.  The greens help balance the richness of the rendang.  While I resisted my housemates call for meat, this would make a nice side to some simple roast chicken or a grilled pork tenderloin. Because of the time it takes to cook rendang, I doubled the recipe that is in Oseland's book.  I also added a few kemiri.  People who shy away from spicy food might want to cut back on the number of chilies. 

Potato Rendang
adapted from Cradle of Flavor

3 pounds of baby yukon gold or fingerling potatoes (about 1-inch in diameter)
40 ounces of coconut milk
3 stalks of fresh lemongrass, white and pale green parts only, chopped
8 shallots (about 6 ounces) chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
8 fresh red chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
10 fresh green, or green and red, Thai chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
4 tsp fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped  (or 3 tsps ground)
1/4 cup  fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 TBS fresh laos, peeled and chopped
4 kemiri (candlenuts, optional)

5 daun salam leaves (optional)
4 to 6 stems fresh kemangi (preferred), or Thai basil
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
peanut oil, as needed

First, reduce the coconut milk slightly by simmering over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Oil from the coconut milk should begin to appear on the surface.

While reducing the coconut milk, make the spice paste.  In a small food processor, mix together the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chilies, turmeric, ginger,  laos, and kemiri.  Pulse until you have a smooth paste.  There should not be any large chunks of any of the spices.  If there are, continue to pulse, adding a tablespoon or so of the coconut milk to facilitate the process.

Add the spice paste, salam leaves, and kemangi to the simmering coconut milk and stir to combine.  Allow to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching, until the liquid has reduced by about half.  This could take from 45 minutes to over an hour.  Be patient and don't try to rush it by cooking at too high of a heat, for this will cause the coconut to boil and possibly separate and curdle.

While the coconut milk is simmering, wash and scrub the potatoes. Cut them about half way through to allow the flavors from the rendang base to penetrate. 

After the coconut milk has reduced by about half, add the prepared potatoes and salt to the mixture, and stir well.  Cook the potatoes in this  liquid until the liquid  has reduced and become thick.  Stir often to keep the potatoes and liquid from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  It will probably be necessary to add a little peanut oil  as the paste becomes thicker. 

Reduce the heat to low and saute the potatoes in the rendered oils and fats, stirring frequently.  You really need to pay attention at this point and continue to cook until the paste turns a rich, fairly dark brown.  It does not become as dark as beef rendang, but it is not too light either. 

Oseland recommends allowing the dish to rest at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to intensify. Bir Bintang in a glass with a large chunk of ice would be the perfect accompaniment to a meal with these potatoes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Weekend Wokking # 23 Roundup--Garlic

I had been anticipating a great number and great variety of entries for this month's Weekend Wokking.  Garlic is such a wondrous herb; good for both digestion and the blood, it has the added benefit of being a natural vampire repellent (and judging from popular culture, vampires are on the increase). It is also virtually universal to all cuisines. Each cuisine has an affinity for this cousin to the onion and finds a way to incorporate it in popular dishes.

The variety and excellence of the submissions did not disappoint.  We are able to assemble a multi-course meal of garlic dishes, from soup to sides to main courses.  Starting with a delicious chilled soup from Sweatha, we end with a tasty dish of fried rice from Weekend Wokking's creator, Wandering Chopsticks.  In between we have some Korean kimchi, a hearty beef stew, some Chinese pork in a luscious garlic sauce, and a spring tart with asparagus.  Each dish celebrates garlic in its own way.  Together, they show why garlic is such an esteemed element in so many dishes the world over.

Our first entry is from Sweatha of TastyCurryLeaf, who coincidentally will be hosting next month's roundup. She made a refreshing Chilled Garlic Soup with 17 cloves of garlic. She worried the garlic might be overpowering, but found it to be understated when she first tasted the soup. You can read all about it here.

Next comes some Baechu Kimchi from Christine at Kits Chow.  Chilies, garlic,  ginger and cabbage--what's not to love?  Christine's detailed instructions on how to make your own supply of this garlicky kimchi can be found here.

EJL of Made with Optimism made a hearty Winter Beef Stew.  This would have been welcomed last week in northern California when we were suffering an unseasonably cold and wet week for spring break.  The full write up is here.

TS and JS of  (eatingclub)Vancouver made White Pork with Garlic Sauce, Two Ways (蒜泥白肉), a pork dish that features a luscious garlic sauce.  As the lotus rises from and flowers out of mud, so the essenge of garlic blossoms from the "mud garlic" of this sauce.  Their interesting account of the discovery of the secret to this dish is here.  

I had originally intended to post a more assertively flavored garlic recipe, but I couldn't pass on the spring garlic and asparagus at the farmers' market.  My post on an Asparagus and Spring Garlic Tart is here.

Finishing up, we have Garlic Fried Rice With Eggs from Wandering Chopsticks.  This is another of those dishes that simply celebrates the zing that garlic can impart.  Fried rice is a dish that can go in so many directions depending on what the cook wants to do with it.  For a complete account of this garlic fried rice as well as links to other variations, go here.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this month's Weekend Wokking.  It was a real pleasure to host this event.  I probably would have never started a blog if it weren't for Wandering Chopsticks' helpful primer on starting a blog, so it was nice to be able to host this almost a year to the day after my first post.

The ingredient for May's Weekend Wokking is tofu.

Sweatha, of TastyCurryLeaf will be hosting the roundup on Wednesday, May 5th.  Please send entries by 11:59 p.m., Sunday, May 2 to: tastycurryleaf .

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Garlic and Asparagus Tart

Garlic is one of the mainstays of my diet.  I will eat it any time of the day, any day of the year.  I can eat slow roasted garlic like candy and have been known to snack on fried slivers of garlic, which are served sprinkled on gado-gado and soto ayam.  Despite my fondness for this member of the onion family, I also recognize that sometimes restraint is called for.  I don't believe that if a dish tastes good with two cloves of garlic, that it will taste twice as good with four.  Subtlety is a good thing.

Spring garlic is subtle.  There is no harsh bite to it, no overpowering funk.  It has a delicate scent and taste that even people who don't appreciate garlic's allure acknowledge.  Paired with asparagus from the Sacramento delta, spring garlic adds a touch of refinement to a simple tart.  With a yeasted crust and a light custard filling accented with orange zest, this was a refreshing tart for Easter brunch.

The crust for this tart comes from Fields of Greens.  It's a dough that is easy to make, easy to work with, and that goes well with a custard type of filling.  I previously posted the recipe here.

Asparagus and Spring Garlic Tart
(adapted from Fields of Greens)

1 recipe yeasted tart dough
2 Tbs oil (preferably olive oil, but canola would also work)
4 to 5 spring garlic stalks, with heads, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 pound of asparagus, sliced into 1-inch lengths on the diagonal
salt and pepper
1 TBS chopped Italian parsley
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
zest of 1 orange, minced
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 375º.
Line the tart pan with the dough.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper.  After the garlic has softened (about 3 to 4 minutes), add the asparagus and cook until tender, another 7 minutes or so.  Transfer to a bowl and add the parsley along with salt and pepper to taste.  Allow the mixture to cool.

Beat the eggs with the half-and-half, the orange zest, and few pinches of salt and pepper.

Spread the cheese over the bottom of the tart.  Spread the garlic and asparagus on top of the cheese and then pour the custard over.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custard is set.

I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a world-wide food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks to celebrate the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient. The host this month's roundup is me.  Look for it this Wednesday, April 7.  The host for next month is Sweatha of Tasty Curry Leaf. To see who is hosting in months ahead go to Who's Hosting.

Sambal Lalapan

Sambal lalapan is the standard accompaniment to fried and grilled dishes in Java. The combination of a fiery sambal and raw vegetables seems to alleviate the richness of fried foods and adds another note of piquancy to grilled chicken and fish.  For someone interested in putting together an Indonesian meal, sambal lalapan is a straightforward dish that can be pulled together in minutes.  Its only requirements are an assertive sambal and some fresh, crisp raw vegetables.  The sambal is the key.

A good sambal should be hot, with a slight tang from shallots, and the funk of a good dose of toasted shrimp paste (terasi in Indonesia, belacan in Malaysia).  A little gula jawa, palm sugar, sweetens the sambal just a bit and pulls the ingredients together.  In Indonesia the ingredients would traditionally be ground together with a mortar and pestle, but a food processor makes much quicker work of it and will probably do a better job unless you are experienced with an Indonesian style mortar and pestle.  Ideally, you would serve this with some kaffir limes, but I have yet to find the fruit here in the States.  (We have a tree growing in our backyard, but it has never produced any fruit.)

Sambal Terasi

A dozen or so red chilies, seeded, roughly chopped (around 180 grams)
5 to 6 shallots, peeled, roughly chopped (around 160--180 grams)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 tsp (+/-) toasted shrimp paste (terasi, belacan)
2 to 4 tsp gula jawa
3 TBS peanut oil
salt, to taste

Place the chilies, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, and sugar in a food processor.  Pulse until you have a chunky consistency, smoother than hot dog relish but with a pleasing texture.  Heat the oil in a well seasoned or non-stick frying pan over medium heat.  Add the sambal and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the oil begins to separate from the paste.  Add salt to taste and cool before serving. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Back to the Future (An explanation, Part I)

I started this blog a year ago this month without a clear idea of where it would go.  I had kind of stumbled onto the world of blogs through my interest in cooking and good food.  While listening to NPR several years ago, I heard about Chocolate & Zucchini and checked it out.  The writing and the recipes instantly appealed to me.  I wondered if there were blogs dealing with Vietnam and Vietnamese food. Soon I was reading Wandering Chopsticks and Gastronomy on a regular basis. What impressed me then, and continues to do so, is the distinct voice and vision of each writer. 

People are often surprised that a bulé/londo is writing a blog about Indonesian (and other Southeast Asian) food. In fact, upon hearing the name Javaholic, most people assume the blog is about coffee. I only realized this after the Foodbuzz Festival last year when people would look at my name tag and start telling me about great coffee shops I should try. I then explained the nature of my blog.

Why a blog about Southeast Asian food? Now, that's a little more difficult to explain. Although my hometown, Sacramento, was recognized by Time magazine as America's most ethnically diverse city a few years back, the Sacramento of my youth was a fairly segregated city. It may have had an ethnically diverse population, but the different groups lived in separate neighborhoods for the most part. The suburban area that I grew up in was almost entirely white. I think even when I was in high school (I graduated in 1974), there were no more than a handful of students of other races attending the school.

Imagine, then, coming to this city, to this high school, as a Chinese teenage girl from Ipoh, Malaya in 1963. That is what Peggy, the girl in the picture at the top of the post, did. She left behind her family in Malaya (for it was not yet Malaysia) to live with our family for a year as an AFS student attending an American high school. She was 17 years old, a senior in high school.  This was before the world was a global village. She couldn't even call her family on the telephone, let alone email or Skype them. Her decision to fly across the ocean (and how horrendous that flight must have been) to live with a strange family while cut off from her own awes me when I think about it now.

At the time, I was seven years old and I didn't think it was particularly remarkable that this girl from another country across the world was living with us for a year. It always seemed kind of natural that my sister, Kathy, would somehow have this friend who would live with us. Girls.

My family, of course, had no real appreciation of the sort of cultural and especially dietary adjustment that Peggy faced.  I'm sure my parents and sister were aware that Peggy faced a lot of cultural challenges, but I don't think they could realize the enormity of the dietary change.  My mother was, and is still, a very good cook.  However, in 1963, her cooking very much reflected an east coast, Irish-American upbringing.  She also had to cook for a fussy little seven year-old who wouldn't dream of eating anything "strange."  Two pounds of rice would last our family of five for a month.  Contrast this  with Peggy's Ipoh, one of the culinary strongholds of Malaysia.  (It just so happens that Rasa Malaysia has just had an interesting guest post on Ipoh's food scene; just reading that makes me hungry.)
Peggy's stay with us had a remarkable effect on our family. As a result of her stay, my father, who was a professor of psychology at the local university, applied for a Ford Foundation grant to teach in Malaysia for a year. His only previous experience overseas had been as a private in the army in India during WW II, an experience he did not look back on fondly. 

In July of 1965, our family sailed on the P & O liner Orsova from San Fransisco to Singapore.   Working with Dr. Ruth Wong, who was the dean of the newly founded Faculty of Education at the University of Malaya, my father helped set up the first counseling program in Malaysia. Working in a foreign culture with highly qualified and interested colleagues was a tremendous personal and professional experience for him. The exposure to the vibrant culture and ethnic dynamics of the newly independent Malaysia, which was still dealing with internal threats of a communist insurgency and the troubles with Indonesia, was also a great experience for the rest of the family.  It was here that my affinity for Southeast Asia started.

(To be continued.)